Sheriff’s office ramps up efforts to educate, crack down on noncompliant sex offenders in Marion County

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) shared it has reallocated resources to put an emphasis on proactively tackling the issue of non-compliant sex offenders in the community.

Right now, Marion County has 1,815 registered sex offenders that live in it, which the MCSO said is by far the most in any county in Indiana.

“Before I was the sheriff, I was the division commander and had the sex crimes unit under me and it continued to have more people from other counties come to Marion County,” said Sheriff Kerry Forestal. He told FOX59 he hoped to discourage this as he ran for Sheriff but said several contributing factors have made it difficult to control a growing number of outside offenders coming to the county.

Data provided by the MCSO reveals a growth in the percentage of registered sex offenders living in it, who were not convicted in the county, but instead moved after their release.

In 2018, the MCSO said 39% of registered sex offenders in Marion County were convicted elsewhere. That number rose to 42% by January of 2021, and in just six months, it moved to 45% by June.

“My issue isn’t the percentage increase, it’s when those increases come,” said State Representative Mitch Gore.

“It took three years to get to 42%, an increase of 3%, but it only took six months to get to 45%,” he said, “What I think we’re seeing is an exponential increase in the number of out-of-town sex offenders and I want to know, are they talking to each other? Why are they coming here? Is the state dumping sex offenders in our county?”

FOX59 reached out to the Indiana Department of Correction, who said each release of inmates is planned with the offender by members of its Re-Entry Division and Transitional Healthcare Services team.

“Each release includes an approved placement for the releasing citizen, which is determined based on a multitude of factors, including education, employment opportunities, family support, housing, transportation, resources and any restrictions or requirements put in place by the sentencing court,” a spokesperson for IDOC told FOX59.

Still, Forestal said he feels there are programs in Marion County he believes could be moved elsewhere, making it less convenient for sex offenders to move within county limits after their release.

“It’s easier to mix into to a population of 900,000 so they’ll move their post-release housing into our county,” said Forestal. “I want Hoosier hospitality to be people that we want in our community. Now, they want to go back in their community, that’s where they need to be.”

Forestal said he wants to encourage parents to keep an extra watchful eye on their children and the MCSO is working to increase its social media awareness on the community’s non-compliant sex offenders as part of this effort.

“We want our kids safe. I think parents should be able to feel they can send their kids out to the parks without having to look over their shoulders, but we’re in reality. We do need to look over the shoulders,” Forestal said.

“We feature, every Monday, a sex offender and if you notice, they’re always somebody who’s from out of town and it’s always somebody who’s failed to register,” said Gore. “We are seeing more and more that the people that come here are failing to register.”

To make his message clear that MCSO is cracking down more than ever on sex offenders that are not complying with rules, Forestal said he placed a sign in the lobby where they are required to register, which reads, “You’re welcome in Marion County as long as you follow the law.”

“The law allows you to be here and if you follow that, fine. I don’t like the programs that encourage them to come to Indianapolis,” he said. “Some of the smaller communities they may be recognized as being what they did and they’re choosing to avoid that detection by coming here.”

Last session, Gore introduced a piece of bipartisan legislation, House Bill 1556, co-authored by State Rep. Mike Speedy, which sought to allow a county’s legislative body to restrict the ability of a sex offender to move into a community, unless they were coming for legitimate reasons like employment or treatment programs.

“It did not get a hearing, but I’m hopeful when we explain this issue to other state legislators that they see the need and they allow it to move forward,” said Gore.

He said he is meeting with other state legislators and certain stakeholders to get a firm grasp on the factors surrounding the issue, and to have firm information so they can hopefully move forward and re-introduce the legislation in next session.

“It’s a problem that the state has helped create and so it’s one that we all have to get together and try to fix going forward,” said Gore. “It’s an issue in red counties and blue counties, which don’t really exist when we talk about this issue.”

Gore shared that he is glad to see Sheriff Forestal and the department taking an increased focus on proactivity when it comes to keeping an eye on the sex offenders living within county lines.

“What it really helps us do, is it gives us much better data and a much better idea of how pervasive this issue is so I can go to my colleagues at the Statehouse, give them hard data, say ‘this is how it affects my county; I can help you get the data for your county, and can we show you, is this happening in your county to the same extent.'”

Gore said Marion County is in a unique position, where it has to deal with this problem in a greater volume than any other in Indiana.

“There are other counties that don’t have to deal with this, so they’re able to allocate resources to their jail and their warrant teams and they’re able to go out and arrest, you know, violent offenders that are on the run,” he said. “We have to dedicate a great amount of time and resources to the sex offender issue, when almost half of them shouldn’t even be here.”

Gore hopes a bipartisan piece of legislation on this would keep the issue at the forefront of Marion County residents’ minds, and to know there are things they can do, and law enforcement is doing, to keep their kids safe.

Forestal said, “We keep the eyes on the people who want to keep their eyes on the children. Sex offenders have a very high recidivism rate and to make that very clear, they do it again.”

“They’re getting a second chance. The fact that they’re out on the streets and not in jail, a judge somewhere has made the decision to allow them to do that,” Forestal said.

He said all is he asking them to do is follow the rules, and because he knows some out there are not doing that, he and his department are committed to conducting unannounced sweeps and focusing resources on the issue, as needed.

MCSO said so far, year to date, they have conducted 3,600 in-person compliance checks. Additionally, the department has launched 195 criminal investigations, which is a 49% increase from the same time period in 2018.

Also up 35% from the same time period in 2018 is the number of warrant applications made due to registered sex offenders failing to comply. So far this year, the department has made 42 applications.

This year, 36 non-compliant sex offenders have been arrested in Marion County, which the MCSO said is a 140% increase from the same time period in 2018.

Current numbers show in the county jail, there are 212 people charged with some kind of sexual or sexually violent crime. The crimes range anywhere from rape to child molestation.

Sheriff Forestal said his message for registered sex offenders in the county is clear: “Another sweep will be coming and as we mentioned before we don’t tell you when, but for the sex offenders, we will be coming for you again, so follow the rules or move out.”

“Those sweeps call it to attention that we will be knocking on your door. If you tell us this is your address, it better be current and we’re gonna take action against you.”

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